Fri, Sep 21, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Cities on coasts must learn from Mangkhut

By Joseph Tse-Hei Lee 李榭熙

A vast area in coastal China was severely lashed by Super Typhoon Mangkhut over the weekend. A deadly storm that caused considerable disruptions and dozens of deaths in the Philippines, it brought drenching rains, powerful winds and massive waves when it made landfall in Hong Kong, Macau and China’s Pearl River Delta.

The frequency and intensity of tropical storms exposes the vulnerability of major cities in their path. Storm surges flooded low-lying neighborhoods in Hong Kong and Macau. Heavy rain triggered landslides, and fallen trees and power lines shut down highways and bridges.

Neighborhoods in Hong Kong and Macau looked like disaster zones after Mangkhut passed. Debris and broken windows were piled up in the streets. Residents lost electricity and were cut off from the outside world.

It was moving to see that firefighters and police officers worked together to rescue stricken residents.

Everyone has been grateful for the outpouring of compassion and support, but it is important for metropolises like Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen and Guangzhou to reflect on three lessons in disaster management in preparation for the future.

First, global climate change is making extreme weather the new normal everywhere. As the air warms up, the winds and downpours caused by typhoons become increasingly intense. A series of epic storms just brought everyone to their knees in the Philippines, and in North and South Carolina in the US.

Acknowledging this new climatic pattern, policymakers and real-estate developers along the Chinese coast should be more pragmatic in envisioning post-disaster redevelopment plans. Instead of compensating residents who lost homes and cars to Mangkhut, urban officials and developers should avoid building luxurious condominiums, skyscrapers and shopping malls in vulnerable flood zones.

Second, all municipal governments along the storm path must rethink the conventional framework of crisis management and initiate some institutional changes.

For decades, Macau has been flush with tax revenues from gambling. As the world’s wealthiest territory in terms of GDP per capita based on purchasing power parity (US$104,862 last year), its government’s massive budget surplus makes it the envy of any nation. Driven by a lax approach to governance, the ruling elites treat other residents like shareholders and give them generous cash handouts annually.

Hong Kong is more resilient to typhoons thanks to many decades of investment in underground drainage systems. Perhaps it is time for regional political and business leaders to use resources wisely, concentrating on sustainable infrastructure and weather-related disaster prevention.

Third, there was no outbreak of looting and crime in Hong Kong and Macau. Both territories remained calm and orderly. After the storm passed, volunteers came together to help victims.

Wherever self-mobilization took place in a disaster situation, it empowered local communities to take control of the problems. Regional authorities should welcome and encourage such compassionate and energetic efforts from civic society in a post-disaster recovery process.

One way is to formulate emergency evacuation plans and encourage everyone to be more self-reliant. Another is to divide emergency workers and medical professionals into small response teams with the tools and institutional support to deal with climate-related crises.

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